Human rights remain an Achilles heel for Kazakhstan

| December 15, 2014 | 0 Comments

As Kazakhstan approaches its 23rd Independence Day anniversary, citizens and human rights experts discuss where the country is moving with its democratic record. In the last four years Kazakhstan has increased persecution of religious and political groups, analysts say.

Better than Turkmenistan and North Korea…

“If you look at some of the African or Asian countries, Kazakhstan will probably look like a more civilized country that has some respect for human rights and freedoms. I mean, when I walk on the street I don’t feel like the police and other authorities are watching me or trying to limit me in any possible way. But I know that if I try to protest the government or its decisions, things will quickly change for me,” says Dinara K. a law student at Nazarbayev university, who recalls the 2011 Zhanaozen tragedy. In 2011 at least 14 protestors (unofficial sources claim the number was closer to 100) were killed in clashes with authorities in Mangistau Oblast’s town of Zhanaozen.

Dinara, who says the events in Zhanaozen inspired her to become a human rights lawyer, adds that “there are many other examples of human rights violations in Kazakhstan, such as cases with HIV-positive citizens, prisoners and others.”

“But because we are in Central Asia, where there are worse human rights violators, like Turkmenistan, not much attention is paid to us”.

Director of the Kazakhstan Bureau for Human Rights Evgeny Zhovtis, who was imprisoned from 2009 till 2012 (was released during a mass amnesty) for a traffic violation, also says that in comparison to Uzbekistan and North Korea: “Kazakhstan is in a better situation,” but there are many problems, in particular “violations of freedom for assembly, freedom of speech and many other political freedoms. This is happening because our justice system is corrupted, and justice is not guaranteed”.

“We still have independent media organizations that cover corruption in higher echelons of government, presidential family, persecutions against opposition and pressure on human rights defenders. But the number of such media organizations decreases under government pressure,” he said.

Zhovtis reminds that after Kazakhstan became independent in 1991 the country saw a renaissance in the development of oppositional movements and free media, but, he says, it all ended in 1995. “At that point a number of elite groups have used the privatization process to claim ownership of previously government-owned property. To make sure nobody talks about it, certain measures were introduced to pressure independent media,” he says, adding that after the revolutions in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan the government felt even more insecure and increased pressure on independent organizations.

Not a lot to be proud of

Almaty-based Helsinki Human Rights Committee Chairman Ninel Fokina says the human rights situation in Kazakhstan is rather stable, but poor. She says is primarily concerned about violations during the election processes as well as religious freedoms.

“In human rights sphere Kazakhstan doesn’t really have a lot to be proud of. The only two positive things that I can recall: when Kazakhstan placed a moratorium on death penalty back in 2003 and when Kazakhstan abolished exit visas (citizens had to obtain permissions to exit the country to travel). These two things were holding us in the Middle Ages, but otherwise there’s nothing to be proud of,” she said.

Things will get better in the future?

Economics Professor at Almaty College Nazira Usmanova says Kazakhstan has been independent for only 23 years, and as years pass, the human rights situation will get better.

“We can compare our country to European countries, but let’s not forget that they lived with democratic values for much longer. Let’s not forget that all problems start within the society,” she said.

Human rights activist Zhanar Sekerbayeva, however, says this isn’t an excuse for Kazakhstan.

“All human rights movements, media, activists, they disappear soon after thy start their activities. This is happening because of the pressure from the government. Until that changes I doubt there will be improvements,” she adds.

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Category: A Frontpage, Kazakhstan, Opinion

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